On my first day of 9th grade Social Science, my teacher sat at her desk, smiled, and said “Before we start class, i want to make something clear. I’m prejudiced. Now, ask me about that.”
We weren’t sure what to say. Some of my classmates looked visibly uncomfortable. No teacher had ever said anything like that. We asked a few feeble questions, but she gave very short answers, still smiling. Thensomeone asked “What do you mean?”
She said “That is what I was waiting for. I am not prejudiced in skin color, gender, religion, or anything of that nature. I’m prejudiced in the respect and work ethic you bring to class. If a student who always turns in assignments on time and is generally respectful asks for an extension on a paper, I’m more likely to grant that extension than a student that never turns in an assignment on time and is disrespectful in class. Thus, I’m prejudiced in favor of respectful students over not respectful ones.”
In a society that can be hypersensitive about words like “prejudice” or “discrimination,” it was refreshing to remember that those words exist beyond their emotional charges. We all discriminate in some way. For example, if someone were to come to the door of my house, I would discriminate between members of my family (whom I would let in without hesitation) and strangers (whom I would ask about their business and may not let in). Certainly, there are systematic types of discrimination that run counter to the kind of society we wish to live in, and we generally approve of overriding individual choice for the sake of the greater good. But to make a blanket statement that “no one should ever discriminate” isn’t what we really mean, and we need to be careful with the words we use.